“Fuck the Post.” That’s what he’d told Selina when she let the tabloid stories get to her. Eddie liked to think he was above noticing the lies they told about The Riddler, but he himself never forgot the time they said he’d used Jonathan Crane to draw up psychological profiles of his victims. All these years later it remained like a tiny splinter wedged under his skin, forgotten until it was bumped, then delivering a painful jab. Utterly trivial, completely unimportant—but the poke hurt. The idea that Crane knew more than him about human behavior because of some extra letters after his name. It was insulting. That’s why he returned to Regal Laundry after finishing with Batman, and that’s why he’d asked Jonathan Crane out for a drink.
By now they had taken enough warehouses, businesses and hangouts from Falcone that each Rogue could have his own lair, but several still came to occupy whatever spot was taken last. Officially they came to see how the place was set up, whose theme had been used to claim it, and what extras the Z had installed. Unofficially they came to play poker, and Eddie took special delight in seeing “The Psychs” were the universal losers. Harley, Hugo and Crane, three doctorates in psychology among them and not $50 to call their own when Roxy and Firefly were finished with them. Harv was a winner too when he sat down to play, but he wasn’t a regular and he wasn’t there tonight. Since he was the only good winner among the Rogues, Eddie had invited Crane to go for a walk to this ‘nifty spot’ KGBeast had found down the street.
“Wolf’s Den 60. That’s for sixty different kinds of vodka.”
The truth was Nigma didn’t particularly like vodka or Jonathan Crane’s company. But he did enjoy that barely perceptible pause and glance back at the table—the center of the table where the pot had been, where all of Jonathan Crane’s cash had become Garfield Lynn’s cash.
“My treat,” Eddie had grinned. That was, after all, the whole point of the invitation—Oh, let me get that, since you lost all your money to the pyromaniac high school dropout because you couldn’t tell he was bluffing with a pair of 3s. It was a small expense, but Eddie could afford it. Now that Jervis was back, he wasn’t quite as dependent on the Z and their surcharges. It was hatted drones cleaning out the one-use lair where he’d met Batman.
“Let’s try the lemongrass next,” Crane said, pointing dramatically to a bottle of infused vodka behind the bartender. “That’s as close to straw as we’re going to get,” he added with the elaborate elocution of one who is already losing confidence in his tongue.
“That’s what you said about the tawny pumpkin,” Eddie said quietly, sipping his club soda.
“Hm? Yes, another tawny pumpkin,” Crane ordered emphatically.
Eddie did have a marginal respect for psychology. It was useful, up to a point, but he wasn’t one to get carried away with the ‘tell me about your mother’ stuff. It wasn’t his relationship with his father or the size of his dick that made him secure enough to not be a macho pinhead. He thought it was quite likely that he simply had other things going for him, so the ability to beat Croc at arm-wrestling didn’t seem all that important.
“This is pumpkin again. Why’d they bring me another pumpkin when I ordered a lemongrass?” Crane said, sniffing his glass suspiciously.
Eddie’s eyes met the bartender’s and he nodded. She shrugged and brought Crane a fresh glass of lemongrass vodka, and Eddie took the pumpkin for himself.
He was perfectly comfortable accepting the reality that if he got into a fist fight with Batman, he was going to lose. Admitting that fact allowed him to strategize correctly: the way you survive a fight with an opponent like that is you delay it. In a sense, his strategy was the same when it came to non-physical combat. He wasn’t as willing to admit he was destined to lose in a battle of wits and wills, but he did see the need to keep Bruce off-balance and off-his game as long as possible. If The Dark Knight made you his top priority, there really wasn’t much hope—particularly if you couldn’t give the battle your full attention, if you were engaged in a bigger war of your own.
Hence playing the Bane card.
The prospect of Selina having a history with Bane should be good for three days, possibly four.
The pumpkin-infused vodka wasn’t the most disgusting thing he’d ever tasted, and he ordered another.
Eddie guessed that Bruce would stew for a day before asking her. Try to find out on his own, figure out that he couldn’t, and then don the body armor and ask her directly. The fallout from that, Eddie imagined, would be good for 36 hours minimum, probably 48.
There was a soft thud as Crane’s head hit the bar, and Eddie nudged him once before appropriating his glass.
48 hours that would be really shitty for muggers, he thought with a chuckle. Then he sipped the lemongrass—which really was a much lighter and pleasanter flavor than the pumpkin, and Eddie picked up the bottle and walked with it to a table by himself.
Heck, when all this was over, the Mayor should probably give him an award. All those Falcone operations closed down and now cutting a swath through street crime. Who knew Edward Nigma could be such a force for Law and Order in Gotham City!
Ivy’s reverence for plant life in no way inhibited her enjoyment of herbal tea, particularly on nights like this when she couldn’t sleep. She was packed, tickets were booked, that wretched train would leave early—and Harvey snored. So she got up and brewed a pot of her favorite chamomile-lavender blend, looked out the window, and in her mind began to imagine the Pennsylvania countryside moving outside the window. The Baldwin Express, goddess transportation of choice between Gotham and Philadelphia for two reasons. One…
Ivy stopped and chuckled to herself as she sipped. After only a few weeks, she was starting to sound just like Harvey…
One: The Baldwin Express had a First Class car, which she naturally preferred even for the shortest trips. And Two: it had a dining car, which was always a plus when traveling with Harley. The trip to Philadelphia would be only a few hours, short enough to omit a meal, and in first class, they would bring the food to your seat anyway—but giving Harley somewhere to go, something to do besides sit and fidget and jabber for attention, it was a better choice.
Harley… it was like traveling with a rambunctious eight-year old.
And Harvey snored.
It’s the great fallacy of the coin toss, the one nearly everyone is prey to: the more times in a row a coin comes up heads, the more likely the next toss will be tails. No matter how solid a man’s understanding of probability, no matter how rigid and disciplined his thinking, if he finds himself actually in the room when a fair coin is tossed fifty times and each and every toss comes up heads, the feeling is inescapable: a tails is due. The next one must be. It simply must. There’s a fifty-fifty chance. Half the time it should be coming up tails. Theoretically it has all of eternity to even out, but that is an intellectual concept belied by the certainty in his gut that the next toss simply must produce a tails.
Unfortunately for Edward Nigma, the coin has no memory of those previous tosses and each new flip has the same chance as the one before. Having finally escaped the role of Fate’s Bitch did not mean a chance occurrence couldn’t still mess up his plans.
Batman had left the office of “Repo and Houg” in exactly the state of mental agitation The Riddler intended. That advantage lasted for exactly eight swings. Batman was halfway back to the Batmobile when he spotted a man walking alone down Sullivan, that nervous twitchiness in his movements that said ‘desperate junkie.’ The drape of his jacket said ‘gun,’ and the only place open down the street he was heading was an all-night convenience store. Batman followed, swung into position to act the moment the weapon was drawn, and disarmed the perp with a frightening economy of effort.
A junkie in need of a fix not being the most rational of creatures, the guy didn’t see Batman as “Batman” or the prospect of jail as “jail.” He only saw “No fix in the next ten minutes,” and the same desperation that prompted the robbery in the first place now began shrieking out every detail he could think of about his dealer with the bizarre idea that Batman would let him go. Unasked, he volunteered the information—that he got stuff from Taz on 48th Street—and he was just heading for a buy now—Taz would be there right now if Batman hurried—and the supplier just got in a load of the really good shit from the Afghans…
He was astonished when, rather than letting him walk, Batman merely grunted before knocking him unconscious.
It took less than an hour to locate and apprehend Taz, beat the details of the supplier out of him, and then clean out the stash house. The lead on the Afghans would have taken longer, but it also would have wasted the opportunity. Going in himself and seizing the drugs already in the 29th Street curio shop might be personally satisfying, but alerting the police would be more productive. Primed with Batman’s leads and the data the Batcomputer was already collecting, the GPD could intercept the next shipment coming in from the airport. They could raid the place when it was open and receiving the goods, seizing men as well as heroin and shutting down a much bigger piece of the drug trade within Gotham and outside it. The data collection and sifting routines took only minutes to set up, and that from the remote terminal in the Batmobile.
The result was that Batman had spent the hour after leaving Riddler with his conscious mind fully focused on crimefighting. His subconscious quietly processed the shock of Nigma’s parting words as it might in a dream, without interruption, without interference from a rational intellect battling for supremacy over an emotional response. After that hour, the mind which had been fully occupied with crimefighting returned to a thought whose emotional impact had already been absorbed: Selina and Bane had a history?
The detective’s instinct bypassed the day of crazed paralysis Nigma was counting on. There was something he didn’t know, and the quickest way to find out was to ask someone who did. Three likely sources of information were known to him—Selina, Bane, and (evidently) Nigma—one of which was forthcoming, reliable, and only a commlink away.
“Channel 9, Open. Catwoman, where are you?”
She giggled. How he hated giggling on the OraCom.
..:: Feeling frisky, are we? Joker, Riddler and a little moblet before midnight, I can’t say I’m surprised. I’d be bored with muggers too after that.::..
“Where are you?”
..:: Park and 53rd.::..
“Your gargoyle in ten minutes.”
..:: Meow. ::..
An impulse prompted him to say something more. Speak her name, quash her assumption that this was going to be fun. But she’d already closed the line, so…
Bane brought his big fingers to his temples and rubbed them in slow circles, hard enough to induce pain to distract him from his building headache. It was after three, not yet four. What Ivanovich called the hour of the wolf.
“Remember Ivanovich, Little Bear?” he asked the worn teddy bear sitting beside his bed, and it looked back with its stitched smile as if to say that it did. Osip Mikhail Ivanovich, a man who didn’t belong in a place like Peña Dura. A man who thought…. bigger thoughts. Or maybe it was just the way he talked that made his thoughts seem bigger: “That hour when you can’t sleep and all you can see is the troubles and the problems, the ways that your life should’ve gone but didn’t. All you can hear is the sound of your own heart.” He sounded almost like the cabrones in those books from the Jesuit, except it didn’t all seem quite so foolish coming from a man living in the same dark hole as you, eating the same millet and drinking the same dirty water as you, the way it did coming from those long dead tontos on a printed page. Until they broke him. What hope did a man like Ivanovich have in a place like Peña Dura, without his glass of vodka before bed “to keep the wolf away?”
Bane decided to take advantage of the fact that he was no longer in that stinking shithole by getting up and pouring himself that large glass of vodka, and then saluting Ivanovich—represented for the moment by the stuffed bear. “To keep the wolf away,” he announced before he drank. Then, in just the way Ivanovich described it, Bane poured three very small glasses. “In case she had cubs while she was waiting outside.”
What was he going to do about Falcone? Thrashing like a caged dog…
“Dead. Every fuckin’ one of them. No ransoms, no payouts, no second chances, no fuckin’ horse’s heads in no fuckin’ beds. They think I give a shit about their fuckin’ nursery rhymes!? Only riddle I wanna fuckin’ see is their BULLET RIDDLED CORPSES on the evenin’ fuckin’ news. It’s my turn to send a fucking message and the message is their little ass buddies – the old Jew tailor and those goddamned whaddayacallem—power rangers—or whatever the hell they think they are – crucified. With my name carved in their fuckin’ foreheads.”
That’s what he heard from the bug he’d planted in the office. That was the mentality he was dealing with. All that pretense, playing his wealth and power as if it marked him out as smarter and more competent than his subordinates, the elite of a patrician criminal caste, “The Roman” with his centurion emblem and his sprawling fortress estate—nothing but a caged dog, sniping at the only fingers he could reach.
“The old Jew tailor and the fuckin’ power rangers,” the lair procurement group called The Z and the old man Kittlemeier who made the Rogues’ weapons and gadgets… “Crucified to send a message” was not what Bane had in mind.
Men like Falcone were all too ready to forget where they came from and what they really were underneath. Ascended thugs were still thugs, with nothing but the low, doglike cunning of a thug. Honed to a keen edge and evolved as far as it would go, perhaps—but a dog’s cunning nonetheless.
Bane set his three little shots of vodka out on the chess board he’d brought from Rico’s.
It was absurdly simple, what Riddler was doing. It was absurdly, deliberately simple. Bane knew the puzzleman was playing it this way on purpose to belittle his enemy’s intellect—which was beginning to look as nonsensical as Bane belittling the Riddler’s size. He’d pulled Carmine onto his own turf right away, bombarded him with riddles and mind-games and the illogical ‘theme’ crimes that were the hallmark of the Gotham Rogues. Used technology and pop culture an old-school mobster like the Roman would care nothing for, to flaunt his superiority. To flaunt his relevance. To say “your day is past, old man. Give up. We’re the future.”
And it was working.
Bane downed the first shot.
Underneath it was that deliberately elementary schoolyard mockery. It was the criminal equivalent of “Nee-ner, nee-ner, Can’t Catch Me,” and Carmine was falling for it hook, line and sinker. The places Riddler had taken were costly, well chosen. He was systematically destroying the Mob’s infrastructure piece by piece, and Carmine couldn’t see past “their fuckin’ nursery rhymes” to the level of competence he was dealing with.
Bane had counseled patience, playing along to buy time, to wait for the opportunity that must come—not getting caught up in the madness themselves. Not this insane foaming at the mouth: “hunt them down,” “kill them all,” “kill their friends, kill their families, kill their pets.” As if men like the Joker had families to threaten. As if even this Riddler would quake at the threat of death and pain. Any man who deliberately provoked the Batman had no fear of that sort, as anyone not blinded by the gaudy costumes would see. Yet Falcone’s final answer to this challenge, like every other challenge to his authority, was to bark and bite and tear at the throat of his adversary.
Bane said to play along because he thought he was dealing with an adult. If not “The Roman,” emperor of a patrician criminal caste, then at least a semi-lucid human with more control over his blood-lust than a junkyard dog.
He picked up the second shot, but he didn’t drink it. He simply held the glass up to the light and scrutinized the liquid.
The Iceberg. That would be Bane’s suggestion today. It was strategically unimportant, difficult to defend and unlikely that any of their targets would still be there openly with the mob gunning for them. But it was their watering hole, and that they cared about more than they cared about each other. To bring down the Rogues would require surgical strikes at the system that supported their existence. The Mob needed—and this was crucial—to take it.
Bane rubbed his temples again. Take it, that’s what he’d said. Not blow it up or aerate it with lead. Not kill everyone inside or burn it to the ground. Not yet. It would be immensely satisfying, true, to see that icon of Roguedom destroyed, but it would be counterproductive. Penguin would just rebuild it; he always did. It would do nothing but enrage the Rogues and escalate their game.
No, the Iceberg had to be taken and held, the way Riddler was holding every Falcone target he attacked. The Mob had to plant its flag in Rogue territory, rub its dirty hands all over the icons of Rogue culture, force their bartender to serve wiseguys drinks and pay him twice as much as Cobblepot did, slap the asses of their waitresses and tip them in hundred dollar bills for a little extra service after hours. Had to knock down that tacky fake ice wall and put up something with a cigar-chewing guido in a fedora—or whatever the Mob wanted to say about themselves, Bane didn’t care. That was not the point. The point was to conquer and occupy, conspicuously. To pull the Rogues out of hiding and rile them up and force them to strike where and when the Mob—and Bane—wanted them to, if they wanted to keep anything they called their own. This was a turf war, through and through, and the Mob needed to wash the stink of Roguedom off the city one piece at a time. First the Iceberg, then their lairs, one by one, and finally…
He drank the shot, set it back down on the chess board, and flexed his hands, feeling the iron strength he’d built before coming to Gotham as if he could hear it creaking in his ears.
He didn’t care about “the Z” and he didn’t understand why Falcone thought slaughtering them was so important. They were, to his understanding, a gang of ex-henchmen who had hit upon more lucrative work with the novel idea of setting up advance lairs for the Rogues during their stints in Arkham or Blackgate. Eliminating them would hinder and inconvenience their enemies, of course, but the Rogues had existed for a very long time without the Z and it would not be a permanent setback. And as for Kittlemeier… well, removing their gadgeteer would be more of a blow, Bane had to admit.
“When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.”
There was damn little worth reading when poets started going about war, but if you’d wasted your time anyway, there were one or two observations in Shakespeare worth remembering. When carnage and slaughter become the norm, there is a lot to be gained in having a few more scruples than the other guy.
Kittlemeier was a frail, elderly man. Where was the honor, the demonstration of power and dominance in such an act? Was that how the mighty Bane would announce his comeback to Gotham City? By helping some overgrown mafia thug hunt down and murder a little old man?
Bane was nobody’s definition of squeamish, but he felt his lip curl with disgusted rage. Falcone wasn’t thinking. He just wanted to kill something and beat his chest. And no matter how extreme the violence, killing Kittlemeier was not an act to instill fear and awe. It was petty, meaningless, and above all—small.
No. He’d played along with these dimwitted reactionary antics long enough. If Carmine Falcone would not listen to reason, Bane himself would be the one to make the next move…
No one used the words “Fate’s Bitch” about Pamela Isley the way they did with Harvey or Eddie, but if you focused solely on her personal life, she’d certainly had an unsatisfying couple of years. Anyone else might call it a dry patch, but for Poison Ivy—someone who was supposedly irresistible, who fancied herself nothing less than a goddess—it was hard to dismiss as the kind of seasonal change that might happen to anyone. She was not “anyone,” she was supposed to be Poison Fucking Ivy. Things that happened to “anybody” were not supposed to happen to her, and when they did, it struck at the very core of her self-image.
She might never admit it on a conscious level, but she would get up in the middle of the night and sip more herbal tea than a self-styled goddess of plantlife should be able to stomach—and blame Harvey’s snoring for the fact that she was awake at the 3 a.m.
No, she might never admit it on a conscious level, but deep down under all the posturing and ego, her self esteem had grown thin and brittle, a dried leaf that could crumble to dust and blow away at the slightest breeze. The truth was, without the pheromones, she wasn’t very likable. The people who knew her best, didn’t like her. The ones who got past the glossy image, the goddess’s beauty and the regal façade, the ones who saw her informally, whom she interacted with as she really was, they… didn’t like her.
With two striking exceptions. Harvey and Harley.
She’d come to cherish them both for it, in different ways… and now they were both suddenly and astonishingly and bewilderingly available.
Catwoman had reached the gargoyle first and was arranged in her usual position: lying on her stomach, legs stretched out, then a slow, rhythmic bend of the knee, a hypnotic back and forth of that shapely leg, sometimes a little twirl of the ankle, other times the second leg came up to join it...
Batman watched for a minute from the Wayne Tower. Psychobat had been quiet, and he was getting used to not being listened to whenever Selina was concerned, so for once—just this once to use Catwoman’s little phrase—he would whisper in Bruce’s ear rather than raging in his soul. He whispered with the quiet insistence of a man who simply must achieve some measure of control in this situation: it was vital that Batman speak first and that he set the tone before Catwoman could say “meow.” Then he fired a line and swung towards the gargoyle.
As soon as she saw him, she got up moved to the ledge where there was room for two.
“Hey Handsome,” she purred.
Internally, Psychobat glowered at Bruce for allowing her to speak first, but at least that inner disapproval came out as a scowl that did, in fact, set the tone: this was not going to be a ‘meowing’ conversation.
“Christ, he got away,” Catwoman said with a note of dread. Then, seeing the ‘what’ in his eyes, she clarified before he spoke it. “Joker. Did something go wrong at Arkham or—”
“Oh, that. No,” Batman graveled. Joker. He had nearly forgotten. Joker and Marcuso, Matches and Gina… it seemed like a week ago, not a few hours.
“Oh, okay. Well, that’s good,” Selina said, hoisting herself up to sit on the waist-high wall that separated the ledge from the roof behind. “So what’s making the whole aura of bat-doom?”
Batman looked away towards the Wayne Tower as if admonishing Psychobat. He’d set a tone, but not the right one. It was the idea of ‘setting a tone’ that was wrong. If things were how they used to be—with Catwoman, with any criminal, with anybody, Batman did not worry about setting a tone. He just asked for whatever he wanted, and if the answer wasn’t satisfactory, he’d ask again more emphatically. He’d ask as often as it took and as forcefully as it took. So…
He turned back.
“When I went to Texas to see Bane, you weren’t happy,” he said, dipping into the deepest register of Bat-gravel.
“You saw through my brave show, eh?”
“Can I ask why?”
Behind the mask, Selina looked astonished.
“Do you have to?”
Batman said nothing. Sometimes silence was more effective than repeating a question.
“Bruce, come on, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”
“You can’t even say it?”
“He… hurt you.”
Sometimes it was more effective; sometimes it wasn’t. When emphatic silence failed to produce a more detailed answer, Batman once again resorted to words:
“Is there more?”
“We’ve never talked about it. What hap—”
“You disappeared! What is there to talk about? I didn’t know if you were dead or alive. Then the new costume showed up and there was a fucking idiot inside it! What IS THERE to talk about? You were just GONE and I had no idea what…”
“Selina, it’s not like we were that close back then…”
“Still got the denial thing going, eh?”
“Come on, don’t you think it’s time you admit it… We’ve always been…”
He grunted, which Selina correctly took as a nod.
“So, I ‘disappeared.’ What happened then?”
“My turn to ask a question first: why are we talking about this now?”
“According to Riddler, he followed me back.”
“From TEXAS? Like… a… puppy?”
A lip-twitch nearly escaped him. Selina and her way of looking at things.
“I doubt it,” he said in a softer voice. “Nigma thinks Falcone brought him here, as part of the war.”
“Natural assumption, I guess, since he doesn’t know you went to Lubbock and had a chat. If it looks like he just turned up out of nowhere when a war’s starting up…”
The dark aura of the Psychobat intensified—Bruce had felt a tremor in his core at those three little words ‘he doesn’t know’—and as usual, a personal reaction from Bruce was cause for a surge of Psychobat to cover it.
“Exactly. Nigma made a logical assumption given his incomplete information. But he does know something, something that I don’t. He said you and Bane had ‘a history.’”
Selina’s head tilted ever so slightly, as piercing green eyes flashed with sudden anger… anger at whom was the question. When she spoke again, it was the voice of long ago rooftops, before masks were removed and names were known.
“I’m not sure if I should take that dip into the gravelly baritone as a compliment or an insult.”
“I’d like to know what this history is.”
“No, you really don’t. I’d tell you to leave it at that, but it’d be like telling the wind not to blow. … Man, Eddie must be pissed at me.”
“Could we leave him out of this?”
“If you like, for now. I’m a patient cat; I can settle accounts with him later. But you do realize if you push for an answer on this, you’re playing right into his hands.”
“This isn’t about him; it’s about you. I want to know.”
“Do you know what Bane did… after?” She took a few steps along the ledge, closing the distance between them, and looked intently into Batman’s eyes. Her voice took on a hard judgmental edge as she went on. “He set himself up like a boss, like Falcone or Marcuso, and expected us all to pay him a cut. Us… The Rogues… paying tribute to that hulking… stupid… cowardly… low-rent… lazy… Neanderthal… meat sack.”
“I’m not sure about the rest, but Bane isn’t stupid,” Batman said evenly.
“He thought Gotham worked like a schoolyard game of King of the Hill, I call that stupid. It’s a special kind of stupid, I’ll grant you.” She paused and then said flatly “The kind that makes you dead. That was the idea. That’s the history. The history you want to know so badly is this: I went to see Bane on the pretext of paying his ‘tribute’… I went to see him to make him dead.”
“Can’t sleep, Petal?”
Ivy looked up and saw Harvey had put on his two-tone bathrobe to follow her into the kitchen.
“No, this is me sleepwalking,” she said, pointing to the tea kettle on the stove and the cup of tea before her.
Harvey glanced at the herbal concoction with distaste, then he went to a cupboard, rummaged, and returned with a bag of cookies.
“Our two-bit opinion, you shouldn’t be taking Harley with you,” he said, sitting down beside her.
“You’re not jealous?” Ivy asked with a teasing smile.
“Petal, we have never so much as hinted that we wanted anything exclusive, have we? Why would we be jealous of your other… attachments? No, our worry with Harley is Harley herself. Don’t you see, Joker went off and made himself a new sidekick just like her. Susannah Pelacci was a non-costumed quasi-civilian not unlike Dr. Quinzelle, and now… Now you’re going off to do the same thing to this Mollatova. You want to do it in a day to ‘beat his record.’ Petal, you don’t think it might occur to even an air bubble like Quinn that she’s…”
“What? Occur to her that she’s what? A pet, a mascot, a glorified hench—?”
Ivy’s lower lip trembled—with anger or some other emotion she couldn’t say.
“She thinks she’s one of us, Petal. She thinks of herself as a Rogue,” Harvey said evenly. “She’s abandoned the haciendas and gone into hiding because we have. But she’s not a Rogue; she’s… a very bad psychiatrist that the head looney mind-fucked like nobody has ever been mind-fucked.”
A part of Ivy would have liked to slam her hand on the table and stomp out the door with a few acid words about packing her things and leaving for the train station right now. The rest of her was too shocked to move her arm, let alone get up from the chair.
“She’s happy thinking of herself as she does now,” Harvey went on with the gentle calm he’d use to redirect a jury’s attention after he’d laid out some particularly gruesome detail of a case in a particularly brutal manner. “We don’t think you should risk that. Quite apart from upsetting her, there could be… blowback. Falcone is enough of an enemy without someone we’re all close to suddenly deciding she’s a victim with a score to settle.”
Ivy swallowed, glanced at her cup as if she wished it contained something stronger than tea, and looked helplessly at Harvey.
“She’s already planning to come along; her ticket is bought. I can’t just uninvite her.”
“Then I suggest you be very careful how you conduct yourself. Especially once you find Mollatova.”
Ivy said nothing. She just continued to stare, first at Harvey’s bathrobe, then at the floor between her feet.
“Can you do that, Petal?”
She swallowed again… Searched in vain for a plant metaphor, but the only thing she could come up with was…
“Landmines. Landmines are only a danger if you don’t know they’re there,” she said philosophically. “If you know they’re there, know right where they are, all you have to do is… not step on them.”
“Right,” Harvey said with an uncertain nod. He hadn’t really expected a tempered, rational response. He wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Batman couldn’t quite put the words he was hearing together with a logical thought.
“You don’t kill,” he said, just above a whisper.
“Wasn’t all that different from the scene you saw me play tonight with Marcuso,” Selina said quietly. “Such a good little she-crook, playing up to the big man. He thought I was so impressed—the man who put Batman on his back,” she spoke these last words with a vicious edge, and something truly evil flickered in her eye. It went beyond merely having no personal interest in the matter herself, it seemed as if she was speaking to someone equally disinterested. Certainly not the Batman himself, and certainly not the lover who, mere minutes before, had barely been able to pry the words “He hurt you” from her lips.
“He expected to be my fence,” Catwoman went on, her tone shifting again as if she’d been reading a bedtime story and broke off from the printed text to add a few details of her own. “Under other circumstances, I might have been insulted at some grubby local imagining he could … I’m Cezanne’s Landscape at Auvers and the Württemberg crown jewels, not gold chains and stereos at a dodgy 8th Avenue pawn shop… but it’s hard to be insulted by a dead man, so I let it go.
“The walking steroid also said he’d have some other work for me from time to time: surveillance, stealing information… he said I’d be ‘paid far more than the value of anything I could fence.’”
She made a reflexive move with her forefingers and thumbs, ‘strangling’ an invisible something with her claws, and then shook out the frustration.
“Do I even need to bother listing the offences in that statement?”
Batman shook his head in a stunned fashion. He could only think to repeat what he’d said before.
“You don’t kill.”
She slapped him, with lightning speed and without warning.
“Don’t say that. Not on this one. It doesn’t work if you say that, and I will not let you take this one away from me. I’ll give back an opal tiara or a stupid pair of Roman mosaics, but I will not let you take this.”
The wave of utter irrationality threatened to strip every semblance of “Batman” from him right there, leaving Bruce Wayne standing on a ledge in a Batman costume exclaiming “What the hell are you talking about” to his completely insane girlfriend. Instead, a cold void pushed Bruce aside, his body seemed to gain mass and density, and the temperature of the air around him seemed to drop. An aura of menace seemed to hover around the lower edge of the cape as a chilling Psychobat voice took over.
“Repeat,” he ordered.
“Of course you don’t get it, why would you?” she muttered, immune as always to the most foreboding displays of battitude and lost in her own train of thought. Then she stared off into the distance, in the direction of the Wayne Tower but not at anything in particular. “Do you know Tommy Monaghan?” she asked without turning her gaze.
“Hitman? Slightly. He’s a loose cannon.”
“A little rough around the edges, but he’s one of the good guys. More than not. I mean, it is supernatural beasties he takes contracts on, not living people.”
“And you went to him for tips on how to kill Bane?”
“No, nothing like that. He told me a story once about a woman he knew in the marines. It seems that she used to go hunting with her father, and for her, it was all about the kill shot. Once she had it, she didn’t need to take it. It didn’t make sense to her. She didn’t even like venison, so why go to the trouble of killing a deer she didn’t want to eat when she already had what she wanted from the experience. For her, that moment looking through the sight, knowing she had the kill. Knowing its life was hers to take…
“We’ve been talking about Bane for about ten minutes now, and the only reason we’re using the present tense is because I didn’t open up his carotid when I had the chance. That’s what I needed… not to kill him, but to know that every breath he takes is because I chose not to.” She held up her right hand, and with her left, pointed to the first and second claws. “I had the kill shot. I got a couple pig carcasses and went up to the Catitat to practice. The man’s neck is as big as a ham, I figured I better practice. When I was ready, I sent word that I wanted to see him… I had the shot…”
She let out a quick, bitter laugh bereft of any hint of humanity.
“Oh he’s stupid alright. Marcuso was a bloody Einstein by comparison and he sat down with Joker right the middle of the boutonniere strike zone.”
“You never should have taken a risk like that,” Bruce said softly.
“Pfft, I had a ouabain compound as a backup. The old African hunters used it to drop anything from a giraffe to an elephant. Bane’s big but he’s not that big.”
“That’s not what I meant. What if you’d done it? Heat of the moment, what if your control wavered. What if…”
His mind reeled, the force of a sickening memory curling his thumb inside the glove… Their eyes met. For so many years, so much was unspoken between them, so much couldn’t be spoken. A crimefighter and a thief, it could never be said out loud, they both just… knew. Like they knew now. An impossible knot of thoughts and feeling, turbulent heaving memories, all boiled down to a single unspoken word: Vaniel. The miserable old wretch that called Bruce Wayne to his death bed and confessed—truthfully or not—to killing Bruce’s parents. He’d felt a rage he’d never known in those next moments, a loss of control he’d never known as he drove his thumbs into the old man’s windpipe… That night when he told her what happened—when she made him tell her—when she made him tell her—she sent Dick away and she made sure she was the one he told the story to—then she said… she knew… she somehow…
Bruce had said “I wanted to kill him. I honestly did.” And she said “You wanted to. But you didn’t need to.” It didn’t make sense at the time, but he was too caught up in his own traumas to see… It never really made sense until right now, how she knew, how she could be so certain—more than he was himself, what he would or would not have done with that monster’s life in his hands.
“Let’s go home,” he said dully.
Selina came up to him, a very… precise distance. Looked up into his eyes at a very precise angle. Tilted her head slightly, as if checking something for herself. Then she pointed over his shoulder at the Wayne Tower.
“We could stay at the penthouse tonight. You look really tired, and the bed’s right over there.”
“I’d rather go home,” he said, letting a hand slip around her and, just for a moment, touching the small of her back. He was exhausted, but he’d pushed through much worse, and it was strangely important to sleep in the manor tonight… to change in that cave. To leave the cowl in that costume vault.
In the morning, they would decide what to do about Bane.
“Fischer-Spassky!” Eddie cried, bolting up in bed as the nightmare dissipated. His mouth was bone dry, with an appalling coating of… smoky… milky… sweet… tea? Ulgh, why did he do that last shot? And what kind of sick bastard came up with the idea of messing up perfectly good vodKEEP!
That was odd.
Eddie had drunk enough to get a little tipsy before, but he’d never had ringing in his eEEP
The details of his nightmare were long gone, but he did vaguely remembeREEP yes, exactly, a chess timer! He heard that sound in his dream, but he was awake now andEEP…
Eddie’s eyes flicked around the room—the nightstand, the desk, the door to the bathroomEEP—and zeroed in on the second drawer the desk across the rEEP. He got up, grabbed his cane and used the handle to gingerly open the drawer—even though this new location was a secret, they were only weeks from the opening volley of lair explosions, after all—and there he saw the brown paper tied with string, his last pick-up from Kittlemeier. It was still unopened, he never had a chance to get into it. When he got back from the opera house that night, all he could think of was Selina’s news that she and Harvey and Ivy had all been attacked by the mobs… MEEP…
The paper had a faint, translucent glow, and Eddie pressed a button on the cane handle, producing a small knife blade. He sliced the string and opened the paper carefully to see MEEP…
It was one of his new question marks that was beeping.
The dot opened, but instead of displaying the riddle Eddie would transmit to the Batman, it read: sos 120e29 bane
To be continued…